Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Forgiveness and the Inversion of Power - Part II

What do I mean when I say an "inversion of power'?

A brief survey of history reveals that the structures humans have produced (sometimes in God’s name) tend to serve self-satisfaction through oppression, abuse, and privilege. Such an exercise in power inevitably leads towards the oppressed rising up and demanding justice through the very means once used against them. I could go on and on about the natural urge for dominance and fulfillment, and the cycle of violence that creates, but ultimately Gandhi was right when he said an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. And, I might add, still angry.

In contrast to human structures, Jesus’ way of thinking about power, love, freedom, and humanity was so radical to those around him that he said one had to be "born again" to understand it. In fact, being born again is a prerequisite for entering into the "kingdom of God".

In earthly kingdoms, people sacrifice freedom to make the king rich and powerful in exchange for protection and provision. But, by and large, the kingdom of God is an inversion of this. In an earthly kingdom, commoners are often forced to give their lives to protect the king’s son. In the kingdom of God, the king’s son willingly gives up his life to protect the people. In earthly kingdoms, people pay taxes so that the king can have more power. In the kingdom of God, the king gives of his infinite excess so that the people can become rich.

This biblical intuition of the inversion of power can be seen throughout the old testament (how often was the rule of primogeniture reversed?), culminating in the beatitudes, the apostles, and the very life of Jesus given for us all.

Here is my point - the inversion of power isn’t just about the weak become powerful, though it is about that, too. The inversion of power is also about giving away power out of a desire for something better than primal self-satisfaction. Power tends to seek more power so that the powerful can get good things. The inversion of power seeks to give power away for the benefit of everyone.

So, how does this relate to forgiveness, especially when the flow of forgiveness seems to be one-way?

I don't want to speak for others, but there have been times in my life when I was not able to forgive until I realized the turmoil within those who harmed me. And, as time passed and my days were colored by God, I realized that He had made me powerful. Not some worldly power that derives its strength from taking things from others, or some physical show of force that commands attention, but a divine power that is able to give itself away out of excess. For me, this kind of power has become emotional stability, spiritual purpose, and hope for the future to the point where I could risk my very well-being because I am so blessed. I don’t want to take back what people, in their weakness, felt compelled to steal from me. Instead, forgiveness for me has become a time of mercy in which I mourn over the depths of weakness and confusion that lead to others taking things from me under the guise of power, but which I could now forgive out of my excess. However, this process takes time.

For those individuals who have been raped or molested, or for those peoples who are systematically oppressed, I wonder how long the process of forgiveness might take. How long until a woman can feel powerful enough to forgive the debt that the rapist incurred? Again, not power rooted in taking from others, but power rooted in being filled to excess. How long until those who have been oppressed for many generations can find the internal fortitude to forgive their oppressors?

I don’t have good answers to these questions. Maybe, on some tangible level, restitution makes sense in the process of forgiveness. Maybe counseling makes sense. Maybe being separated from the actual person and place forever is the only way to regain a permanent sense of well-being out of which forgiveness can spring. I don’t know how long is too long to wait for true forgiveness. But I’ve become convinced that the healing embrace that will cure the world happens when people come to grips with the inversion of power demonstrated to us by Christ, and instead of using their resources to take, use their resources to love.

"Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs."
"So let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love..."

3 comments:

Tracy P. said...

This goes on my "favorites" list. Wow!

Benjamin said...

Thanks! The compliment is not wasted on me. This post was hard to write - I'm still not really satisfied with it, but hopefully it gets the point across.

Tracy P. said...

I can only imagine that it was hard to write, because I had a hard time capturing what struck me about it. I guess it's so much a matter of our ability to grasp and to rest in the excess of grace (and therefore power) that is ours in Christ. I think few of us even come close to living in that reality.